Brent Seabrook has been a significant part of Chicago Blackhawks history.
After arriving in the NHL back in 2005-06, he has spent 14 seasons as a part of their blue line, playing in more than 1,000 games and being a cornerstone piece of a team that won three Stanley Cups in a six-year stretch between 2010 and 2015. He is undoubtedly on the short list of most important players to ever play for the team.
Eventually, though, father time comes calling for everybody and Seabrook has simply not been that same player and the Blackhawks have not been that same team for a couple of years now. With the team headed toward what looks to be its second straight non-playoff season and saddled with large contracts for aging players, there is no doubt that general manager Stan Bowman is exploring all of his options, including the possible trades of players like Seabrook that were a key part of the most successful era in franchise history.
One thing is certain up front: You can probably safely assume that Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are on the team’s “untouchable” list, as is Alex DeBrincat, the best young player in the organization and an emerging star.
Everybody else, however, should probably be sitting in the team’s front yard next to the “for sale” sign as they attempt to get out of this rut they have fallen into over the past two seasons.
At the top of that for sale list has to be the blue line duo of Seabrook and Duncan Keith, both of whom are over the age of 33 and still signed to long-term contracts beyond this season.
If the Blackhawks are going to turn the page and move forward as an organization into a new era, it would be in their best interest to find a way to move one — if not both — of those contracts, with Seabrook’s probably being the most pressing given that his play seems to have slowed down the most between the two players.
There has been speculation in recent weeks that the Blackhawks may approach (or have already approached) both players about waiving their no-movement clauses. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned on Saturday night that the Blackhawks have already approached Seabrook about waiving his and that as of this moment he has declined to waive it, which is well within his right to do. Both sides negotiated that clause in the contract, he earned it, and it’s not up to him to help out the Blackhawks out of their current jam.
If he is happy being in Chicago and being a Blackhawk, he can say no to anything they offer him.
The same is true for Keith.
That doesn’t mean the Blackhawks shouldn’t try, because they absolutely should.
Both players still have at least four more years after this one remaining on their deals (Seabrook actually has five more years remaining) at a combined salary cap hit of more than $11 million per season. While Keith is still a good player and still probably a bargain based on what he provides, there is going to come a point where both players are going to have their careers take a cliff dive. There’s an objective argument to be made that is already happening in Seabrook’s case, which would make his contract extremely difficult (though not impossible) to move even if he was willing to move on.
If they can’t move on from the defenders, there are options at forward.
Artem Anisimov (limited no-trade clause) is another veteran on the other side of that 30 that still has multiple years remaining (two more after this one) on his current contract and has also seen his production plummet over the past two years.
Then there is Brandon Saad, whose return to Chicago has simply not worked the way anyone with the Blackhawks thought it would, and only looks worse given the way Artemi Panarin has continued to be one of the league’s elite offensive players and playmakers.
Saad is still owed $12 million over the next two years after this one.
All of that means Blackhawks have more than $22 million in cap space tied up in the quartet of Keith, Seabrook, Saad, and Anisimov over the next few years, and other than Keith they are not getting anywhere near close to that level of production out of the group. Given the ages of those players and their current career trajectories that is only going to get worse before those deals expire.
That means it should be a priority — and a necessity — for the Blackhawks to unload as many of those contracts as they can, as soon as they can.
It may not bring back a ton of of value in terms of assets (draft picks or players), and it may even require some retained salary or some creative cap maneuvering.
But it is not even necessarily about the assets they could or would get back in return that is important.
It is the salary cap space they could create that matters.
The Blackhawks’ top players are still playing like their top players. Kane is still one of the league’s most productive forwards, and even Toews has seen his career bounce back a little bit offensively after a couple of declining years. DeBrincat is, again, becoming a star and they may have found something in Dylan Strome. There is still a core of players at the top of the roster they can compete with. But everything else around them has fallen off so much that they are once again near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
They are still the Chicago Blackhawks. They are still a destination team in the NHL with star players at the top of the lineup. They just need to be able to create the necessary space that will allow them to fit the necessary complementary pieces on the roster.
That has to start with some significant trades, even if they involve players that have been a significant part of making the Blackhawks what they have been during this era.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.